Thousands more Australians are eligible for a fourth COVID-19 vaccine this week and the eligibility for anti-viral treatments has also been expanded as the country experiences another wave of infections.
People over 30 years of age can now opt to have a winter booster dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and it is encouraged for everyone over 50 years old.
All Australians over the age of 70 are now eligible to receive the prescription oral antiviral treatment if they test positive to COVID-19, to reduce the risk of severe symptoms.
People with two or more risk factors for severe disease over the age of 50 or who are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and over the age of 30, as well as some immunocompromised people over the age of 18, are also eligible.
Minister for Health and Aged Care, Mark Butler, says the new variants of COVID-19 are causing the number of cases and hospitalisations to climb and the antiviral pills will help to combat the issues caused by widespread community infection.
“These oral antivirals dramatically reduce the risk of severe disease, particularly for older Australians, and will help keep people out of hospital,” says Minister Butler.
“The former Morrison Government bought hundreds of thousands of doses of these medicines that have been sitting on a shelf instead of being used to help people who are at risk of severe illness. I’m pleased this will change, with millions more people now eligible for these treatments.
“Two antivirals are on the PBS meaning these remarkable treatments that normally cost more than $1,000 will only be $6.80 for a concession card holder and around $40 for everyone else.
“Speak to your GP and make a plan for what you will do if you get COVID, so you can start taking antivirals as soon as possible after your positive result.”
Minister Butler said yesterday, while appearing on ABC program Insiders, that cases could continue to climb for a few weeks yet.
“We're still relatively early in winter; hospitals are still pressured by influenza as well as a range of other illnesses,” he says.
“There is very real pressure on our hospital system right now and health authorities are worried that hospitalisations will climb even more quickly which is why we've acted so quickly to get those fourth doses broadened in terms of eligibility. And why I've announced much broader access to these very effective antiviral medicines.”
Despite the climbing case numbers, mask mandates are unlikely to return, with Government leaders at the Federal, State and Territory levels vocally against the idea of bringing back masks in any environment where the rules have been dropped.
Minister Butler told Insiders that the country’s top health officials don’t believe mask mandates would be beneficial.
“There's no advice to me or to any of the State health ministers that we should reintroduce broad-based mask mandates…I think the broad view is that in this phase of the pandemic, mask mandates and things like that are best done in a targeted way,” he says.
“So, there are mask mandates in aged care and health facilities, on public transport, on aeroplanes and such like, and very clear advice from the Chief Health Officers that if you're in a crowded indoor space with no ability to socially distance, you should give very strong consideration to wearing a mask.”
Masks are still a requirement in high-risk environments, including hospitals and aged care homes, but are optional in most other public areas.
However, businesses are being encouraged to form their own mask rules by some State Government leaders, including in Victoria and South Australia.
Disability advocates have been calling for a plan to keep people with disability safe during this latest COVID-19 wave and to prepare for future pandemic emergencies, but the Government has not committed to the roadmap produced by disability representative organisations.